“And if we don’t change course and start reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, we are on track for anywhere between 2°C and 4°C global warming by the end of this century, possibly even higher.” – Professor Richard Betts MBE
Action to improve the nation’s resilience is failing to keep pace with the impacts of a warming planet and increasing climate risks facing the UK.
That is the conclusion of a comprehensive independent assessment led by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) which considered a catalogue of risks and opportunities affecting every aspect of life in the UK.
The University of Exeter played a key role, with the University’s Professor Richard Betts MBE leading the Technical Report which formed the scientific core of the assessment.
The UK is experiencing widespread changes in the climate; average land temperature has risen by around 1.2°C from pre-industrial levels, UK sea levels have risen by 16cm since 1900 and episodes of extreme heat are becoming more frequent.
Since the CCC’s last assessment five years ago, over 570,000 new homes have been built that are not resilient to future high temperatures and since 2018 over 4,000 heat-related deaths have been recorded in England.
Professor Betts, who is a member of the University’s Global Systems Institute, said: “We are heating the global climate by causing greenhouse gases to build up in the atmosphere.
“Further change is already locked-in, so we urgently need to prepare for that.
“And if we don’t change course and start reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, we are on track for anywhere between 2°C and 4°C global warming by the end of this century, possibly even higher.
“The impacts of this would be profound and severe around the world, including here in the UK.”
Professor Betts is also Head of Climate Impacts Research at the Met Office Hadley Centre, where his colleagues produced the UKCP18 Climate Projections which are central to the climate change risk assessment.
People, nature and infrastructure are already vulnerable to a range of climate impacts today and these will only increase in the coming years as the climate continues to change.
The longer action to address these risks is delayed, the higher the costs the Government and the UK public will face.
The Climate Change Committee say that leadership from the UK Government and Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland must result in increasing efforts to adapt to climate change to ensure that societal, economic and environmental goals remain achievable in the face of climate change.
Baroness Brown, Chair of the CCC’s Adaptation Committee, said: “The severity of the risks we face must not be underestimated.
“These risks will not disappear as the world moves to Net Zero; many of them are already locked in.
“By better understanding and preparing for the coming changes, the UK can prosper, protecting its people, its economy and its natural environment.
“A detailed, effective action plan that prepares the UK for climate change is now essential and needed urgently.”
UK-wide, nearly 60% of the risks and opportunities assessed in the 1,500-page report have been given the highest urgency score.
The CCC identifies eight priority risk areas which need immediate attention, at the latest in the next two years:
1. Risks to the viability and diversity of terrestrial and freshwater habitats and species from multiple hazards.
2. Risks to soil health from increased flooding and drought.
3. Risks to natural carbon stores and sequestration from multiple hazards, leading to increased emissions.
4. Risks to crops, livestock and commercial trees from multiple climate hazards.
5. Risks to supply of food, goods and vital services due to climate-related collapse of supply chains and distribution networks.
6. Risks to people and the economy from climate-related failure of the power system.
7. Risks to human health, wellbeing and productivity from increased exposure to heat in homes and other buildings.
8. Multiple risks to the UK from climate change impacts overseas.
The report notes that there are strong benefits from taking effective adaptation action.
The assessment identifies a range of steps that will have benefits in the next five years if implemented on a wide scale, such as building design and retrofit, habitat creation and improved access to information on climate impacts.
University of Exeter scientists also contributed to the risk assessment as authors of some the Technical Report chapters and by carrying out new research to underpin the assessment.
Dame Julia Slingo FRS holds an honorary position at the University of Exeter and led the Climate Science chapter.
Professor Claire Belcher led a major review of climate change and wildfire risks in the UK, and Dr Mattia Manciniand Professor Ian Bateman analysed climate change impacts on land use and agricultural emissions.
Dr Tim Johns made a detailed comparison of old and new climate projections.
Importantly, while the changing climate also creates some opportunities for the UK, these do not offset the risks and also require early action to realise.